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Peaceful monasteries, Himalayan mountain peak backdrops and deep, green valleys characterise this journey through the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan. Experience colourful and traditional festivals with welcoming locals and return via Kathmandu for a flavour of this chaotic yet captivating city.
Explore Tour Leader
11 nights comfortable hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Kathmandu; the busy, colourful and chaotic capital city of Nepal. Thousands of years of history are revealed in shrines, hidden temples and narrow backstreets, and the Himalayas provide a spectacular backdrop to this intoxicating city.
Our hotel in Kathmandu is about 30 minutes' drive from the airport. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Kathmandu at any time. If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM).
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, you might choose to walk in to the centre of town which is around 15 minutes from the hotel.
Our time in Kathmandu is accompanied and we will meet our Tour Leader on arrival in Paro on day two of the trip. In the meantime a local Nepali guide will meet you in the hotel reception for the initial tour briefing. After this, for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. Should you miss the meeting, your leader will leave you information giving the meeting time for the next day in the hotel reception and will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
This evening you might like to have your first taste of Nepalese cuisine. The local dumplings are a good bet. Called momos, they consist of a flour-based dough filled with meat or steamed vegetables. Also worth trying is dal bhat, a lentil based soup usually served with rice and vegetable curry. Whatever you try you'll find the cuisine varied, a mixture of influences from around the region, and a riot of colours and flavours.
Hotel Ambassador (or similar)
Leaving Kathmandu behind we fly to Paro, beautifully set amidst the wooded valleys of Western Bhutan. It lies along the banks of Paro Chu River, overlooking terraced farmland, and is home to some of the largest and oldest of Bhutan's majestic dzongs - fabulous buildings that serve as the political, religious on military centres of their regions. On arrival we will be met by our Bhutanese tour leader and transfer the short distance to our hotel and if time allows we shall take a brief orientation of the town and visit the Rimpung Dzong.
Gawaling Hotel (or similar)
Departing Paro we turn east, taking the mountain trails that head through the beautiful landscapes of the Black Mountains and across the high Dochu La Pass (3200m). Our journey takes us across lands blanketed in rice terraces and scattered villages and, as we climb up towards the heights of Dochu La, the road becomes festooned with colourful prayer flags. On a clear day this meandering highway offers some breathtaking views across the Bhutan Himalayas towards the towering peak of Gangkhar Punsum (7541m), the highest mountain in the country. Descending towards the bewitching Punakha Valley the landscape changes; from forests of pine and oak, through rhododendron, alder and cypress, to turn more tropical as we approach the valley floor. In the warmer climate around Punakha we can find cactus, oranges and bamboo. The fertile valley, drained by the Phochu and Mochu Rivers, produces a perfect environment for farming. We will stop and visit the Chimmi Lhakhang Monastery, the \ Mad Monk\ monastery built at the end of the 15th century by the Lama Drukpa Kuenley, the revered and decidedly controversial saint who is believed to have subdued the demoness of the Dochu La. To say that this remarkable yogi's teachings went against the normal conventions of Buddhist dharma would be something of an understatement, given that he was prone to the most outrageous excesses to get his message over. The Lama believed that the rigid doctines of the day were isolating the priests from the ordinary people, so he set out to break down these barriers by deliberate provocation by, in his own words, using '...fair and foul words for mantras'.
Zhingkham Resort (or similar)
This morning we visit Punakha Dzong. Built on a sandbank at the confluence of these two rivers sits the majestic 17th century Punakha Dzong, once the seat of Bhutanese government, but today the winter retreat of His Holiness the Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot of Bhutan. A superb example of Bhutanese monastic architecture, the dzong presents us with a collection of tiered halls, inner courtyards and golden spires that have managed to survive numerous fires, floods and earthquakes over the intervening centuries. This afternoon we can hike to Khamsum Yuley Chorten. This is a lovely 2 hour round trip through the valley littered with farms and houses. We will call in at a typical farm house to try yak butter tea and learn more about everyday life for families in Bhutan.
Today we have a long but beautiful drive through the glacial landscapes of the Phobjika Valley, an area that is a prime wintering ground for the rare black necked cranes that flock here from the Tibetan Plateau between October and March to feed. The area is also home to sambars, red foxes, Himalayan black bears and muntjaks. We'll stop at the famous Gangtey Monastery. Built in the early years of the 17th century the goemba was built by Tenzing Legpai Dhendup, the second reincarnation of Pema Ligpa, and its Tibetan style prayer hall is one of the largest in Bhutan. The monastery is still an active seminary and its government-funded college offers a nine-year course in Buddhist studies. We will then begin our walk down the picturesque valley and back to Phobjika village where we visit the black-necked-crane information centre to learn more about this interesting bird.
Yueloki Guest House (or similar)
Today we join locals in celebrating at the annual Black Neck Crane Festival. The festival celebrations take place in the courtyard of Gantey Gompa and focus on celebrating the arrival of the Black Neck Cranes who make the Phobjika Valley there home during the winter months. The festival centres around cultural dances and songs, often containing reference to the birds, and makes use of Bhutans traditional carved wooden masks. There is a large focus on conservation of the area and the cranes habitat during the festival.
We'll leave early this morning heading for Thimpu, the Bhutanese capital that occupies the wooded western banks of the Wang Chhu. Our journey winds its way past paddy fields and apple orchards, forests of pine and tiny hamlets whose houses are decorated with the Tashi Tagye, the 8 symbolic signs of Himalayan Buddhism. If time allows, we will walk along Thimpu's bustling streets, soaking up the rich atmosphere of this most unique of capitals, one that doesn't possess even a single traffic light. Our driving time today will be around 8 hours including stops along the way.
Pedling Hotel (or similar)
A full day in the capital affords us the opportunity to take in its highlights. We'll visit the King Jigme Dorij Wangchuk memorial, a Tibetan-style chorten built to commemorate the country's third king and today one of the centre points of daily life in the city. Our next stop is the imposing 17th century fortified monastery of Tashicho Dzong (Fortress of the Glorious Religion), a religious centre of Bhutan and the spectacularly located seat of its government since the early 1960s. We'll also visit the Takin Enclosure before taking in a thangka painting workshop or a visit to the paper making factory. For those who are interested, we can wander through the traditional handicrafts market and perhaps pick up a few souvenirs along the way. By law all the buildings within the city are required to be designed in traditional style and decorated with Buddhist motifs and religious symbols. Even the short-lived introduction of the city's only traffic light saw it originally placed in a chorten.
We leave Thimpu behind and head back towards Paro. Where we will head out to the fabulous Taktsang Monastery, one of the most revered in the country and precariously located on a cliff face some 900m above the Paro Valley. The name translates as Tiger's Nest and local legend recounts how Guru Rinpoche, who founded the Drukpa Sect and brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew here on the back of a tiger and founded the monastery on the site of a cave where he spent a few months deep in meditation. The 3km hike up to the monastery is quite demanding and generally takes around 4 to 5 hours there and back. The path mostly consists of stone steps that cut through oak and pine forests before emerging onto a ridge with amazing views of the monastery and surrounding area. We will also visit the temple of Kyichu Lhakhang en route back to the city, one of the holiest temples in Bhutan and said to have been built by the Tibetan king Songsten Gampo in 659AD. This temple was believed to have been just one of many, part of an incredible undertaking of over 100 temples, built to subdue a demoness that lived in this land. The temples were built across Tibet and Bhutan, as a means of pinning down the ogress and converting the people to Buddhism and Kyichu Lhakhang is believed to hold down the left foot of this huge demon.
Today we fly back to Nepal and have a day of sightseeing with a local guide. Our sightseeing this morning takes in the sumptuous majesty of Durbar Square and its collection of ornate palaces, courtyards and temples, spanning some three centuries of dynastic rule by Malla, Shah and Rana kings. We will also visit the Asan Bazaar and the Kumari Ghar, home to the Kumari Devi; a living goddess worshipped by both followers of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Later today we also plan to visit the Temple of Pashupatinath on the banks of the Bagmati River, the oldest and holiest Hindu shrine in Nepal and regarded by many as the most revered temple of Shiva on the planet. The river is considered holy because its waters eventually flow into the sacred Ganges, and the ghats - steps leading down to the river - are regularly swamped by pilgrims bathing in the waters. This area is also one of the city's most important cremation areas, where both royalty and the common people are cremated and have their ashes sprinkled on the waters of the Bagmati, to make their way downriver towards the sacred Ganges. Please be aware that cremations take place here in the open and may be in progress during our visit. Returning back to the city we pay a visit to the stupa of Bodnath, at 40m the highest in the Kathmandu Valley and one of the largest on the planet. Revered by Buddhists this remarkable structure is a dazzling vibrancy of prayer flags, monks and pilgrims, all overlooked by the ever-present and all seeing eyes of the Buddha himself.
Today we have an unescorted free day to further explore the delights of Kathmandu and the surrounding area. Depending upon your interests you might like to spend it visiting the almost perfectly preserved Newari town of Bhaktapur in the eastern corner of the Kathmandu Valley. Also known as Bhadgaun or the City of the Devotees, Bhaktapur evokes the feel of a medieval village, a snapshot of a time when the city lay along the prosperous trade routes between Tibet, China and India. The ancient centre of the town is a dazzling collection of temples, palaces and monasteries that have earned it a place on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. A wander through this cultural gem affords an opportunity to take in its beguiling charms and enjoy the site of artisans going about their craft much as they have for generations. You can watch potters throwing clay on traditional wooden wheels, watch jewellers and artists as they go about their daily business and wander through the handicraft shops and stalls seeking out some exquisite bargains. Another alternative for this afternoon is a trip up to the nearby the hilltop temple of Swayambunath, the captivating 'Monkey Temple', whose all-seeing Buddha eyes gaze out across the Kathmandu Valley. The temple is aptly named and the cheeky monkeys that inhabit its ancient walls are not averse to trying to relieve passers by of food, bags and cameras, so be warned.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Kathmandu.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Kathmandu at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM).
The best weather lasts from September (after the monsoon) through to Jun and the mountains are best admired, with greater air clarity in the autumn. Spring (mid Mar-May) is cool & often stormy. Autumn is from Oct to mid Nov with clear skies, warm days & cool (sometimes cold) nights. As in any high mountain area it can rain, hail or snow at any time of year.
2 Pin Round
Lamaistic Buddhist, Indian/Nepalese Hinduism.
Dzongkha, plus various Nepalese and Tibetan dialects.
Temperatures in the lower altitude regions are extremely pleasant. At Pokhara variations in temperature are very limited: from the coldest recorded of 8°C (46°F) to the highest of 31°C (88°F). The mountains are best admired, with greater air clarity, from October to January, while from February to May the skies may be hazy. Monsoon rains are strongest in June, July and August. The coldest months are December and January.
Bhaktapur US$ 45 (minimum 4 people). Swayambunath - US$ 25 (minimum 4 people)
High altitude night temperatures in the Himalaya can be cold so make allowance for warmer clothing and a waterproof accordingly. Clothes should be casual and practical but to avoid giving offence to local people you may need to cover legs, heads and arms. Shorts and leggings are not appropriate. A scarf or bandanna can be useful on the dustier sections of road. For Dzong visits, you will need collared, longsleeved shirts, long trousers and closed shoes.
Light walking boots/comfortable walking shoes, trainers. Ankle support is recommended for the Tigers Nest hike.
One main piece of baggage and daypack. Remember you are expected to carry your own luggage so don't overload yourself.
Binoculars, torch, water bottle, insect repellent, high factor suncream (at least factor 15), good quality sunglasses and a lip salve with sun protection. You may wish to take a walking pole with you for the Tigers Nest walk and a swimming costume if you wish to swim at the Kathmandu hotel.
Bhutan Food in Bhutan whilst delicious can be a little on the repetitive side. Most meals consist of fresh vegetables, locally grown red rice and often a meat dish. Vegetarians will eat well as many Bhutanese are totally vegetarian in accordance with their Buddhist faith. Every meal comes with Bhutan's national dish, chilli's with cheese! It might sound a little odd, and perhaps concerning for those not comfortable with spices but it's very tasty and a great accompaniment to a meal. The chillis vary in heat and are smothered in a cheese sauce made from nak cheese. It is usually served as a side dish so you can be as brave as you like!
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Nepal: An entry visa is required by UK, New Zealand, Australian, US & Canadian citizens and can be obtained on arrival at Kathmandu Airport and various international border crossings between Nepal and its neighbouring countries. This currently costs $30 USD for a 15 day visa, $50 USD for a 30 day visa and $125 USD for a 90 day visa. All visas are issued as multiple entry visas and are valid from the date they are issued. There have been reports of lengthy delays when completing the form to obtain the visa at the airport, especially during peak times. We therefore recommend that you fill in the visa information prior to arrival using the following link: http://online.nepalimmigration.gov.np/. This will produce a receipt with a barcode, which you will need to print off and produce on arrival to obtain the visa. Please note if you are filling in the form before you arrive, please do so only within 15 days of arrival as application forms are only stored for a maximum of 15 days. Whether you are filling in the form on arrival or before, a passport-sized photograph for immigration is required along with the exact cash. Payment must be made in cash, UK sterling and US dollars are both accepted. If you are ineligible for the visa on arrival or wish to obtain a visa before you travel, please refer to your nearest Nepal embassy. Bhutan: A visa for Bhutan will be arranged by our local agent and is included in the tour cost. In order to facilitate this please forward the following 3 necessary supporting documents by email to Explore at least 8 weeks before your departure:- A scanned colour copy of the details page of your passport A scanned colour copy of a recent passport photo (photo must conform to passport photo requirements) Proof of valid insurance for the duration of the trip such as a Schedule of Insurance Cover In addition, on entry into Bhutan please ensure that you carry proof of Covid vaccination status (For UK travellers this can be a digital or hard copy of your NHS Covid 19 Pass) as this will be inspected by immigration officials. Passengers with dual or multiple passports must ensure that they use the same passport for entry to all countries on this trip.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against malaria, tetanus, infectious hepatitis, typhoid and polio. Consult your travel clinic for latest advice on different prophylaxis available against malaria (eg. Paludrine, Chloroquine, Mefloquine etc.) Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against malaria, infectious hepatitis, typhoid, tetanus, polio and Japanese encephalitis. Consult your travel clinic for latest advice on different prophylaxis available against malaria. Although not compulsory, travellers may wish to take immunisation against meningococcal meningitis. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.